The Ultimate Recount of Super Bowl IV

Today we have Super Bowl IV, the fourth and final AFL-NFL World Championship Game, between the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs and the NFL champion Minnesota Vikings. This game was held on January 11, 1970, at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. It was the final game before the AFL-NFL merger that came with the 1970 season.

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Lombardi Memories is a show that takes you back in time, into January or February, to the greatest one-day spectacle in all of sports. This is the every-other-Tuesday podcast that looks back at each and every one of the 50-plus Super Bowls and tells the story of who won and why.  Tommy A. Phillips is your host on this Super Journey.  He’s an author of multiple NFL books.  You can purchase below.

Prelude to Super Bowl IV

The AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs are unique because they were actually a second-place team in their division, making them the first second-place team to make a Super Bowl. But don’t call them a wild card!

The difference between a wild card and what the AFL had here was that the first and second-place teams in each of its two divisions automatically made the playoffs. Whereas a wild card system would have sent the top two non-first place teams without regard to divisions.

So, here’s how it worked. The Oakland Raiders won the AFL West at 12-1-1. The New York Jets won the AFL East at 10-4. The Chiefs were the second-place team in the AFL West, so they automatically made the playoffs at 11-3. The Houston Oilers were the second-place team in the AFL East, so they automatically got in despite a 6-6-2 record. If this had been a wild card format, the third-place team in the AFL West, the San Diego Chargers, would have gotten into the playoffs over the Oilers, since the Chargers finished at 8-6. But instead, the Oilers got in. That means that the Chiefs are not the first wild card team to reach the Super Bowl.

The playoff format in the AFL was also convoluted because of cross-division games. Instead of playing a game between the teams in your own division, you played the team in the other division. So, the first-place East Jets played the second-place West Chiefs. Likewise, the first-place West Raiders played the second-place East Oilers. When the Chiefs beat the Jets 13-6 and the Raiders beat the Oilers 56-7, that set up an all-West AFL Championship Game. The Chiefs then beat the Raiders 17-7 in the AFL Championship Game to advance to the fourth AFL-NFL World Championship Game.

The Minnesota Vikings, meanwhile, were very much like the Baltimore Colts of a year ago. They were absolutely dominant in the NFL, holding the best record in the league. The only games they lost were their first game to the Giants by a mere one point and the last game of the season to Atlanta which was meaningless since they had already clinched the best record. The Vikings then defeated the Rams 23-20 in the Western Conference Championship Game and the Browns 27-7 in the NFL Championship Game to reach the Super Bowl.

Since the Vikings were a first-place team and the Chiefs were a second-place team, it was only natural that the Vikings were installed as favorites. But the spread was ridiculous; the Vikings were thirteen-point favorites since the media still believed the NFL was so much better than the AFL and that the Jets’ victory had been a fluke. Yet again, the AFL champions came into the Super Bowl with a ton of extra motivation.

First Quarter

The Vikings won the coin toss and chose to receive. Chiefs kicker Jan Stenerud put the ball in the end zone for a touchback. Minnesota running back Dave Osborn took the first carry for three yards, then he hauled in quarterback Joe Kapp’s first pass for ten yards. Two plays later, Kapp fired to tight end John Beasley for a first down at the Kansas City 39. However, the Vikings could only gain one yard from there. They could have tried a long field goal since the goalposts were still on the goal line, but instead, they chose to punt. Punter Bob Lee kicked it out of bounds at the Kansas City 17.

Running back Robert Holmes carried it for three yards on Kansas City’s first play. Quarterback Len Dawson passed to running back Mike Garrett, and he got a first down at the 36. Facing third down a few plays later, Dawson fired to receiver Frank Pitts to get a first down at the Minnesota 45. Garrett took a carry and got to the Vikings 40. The Chiefs were stopped on third down when Vikes defensive end Jim Marshall knocked down a pass. Kansas City head coach Hank Stram then sent out Stenerud to try a 48-yard field goal. He converted the kick, the longest in Super Bowl history up to that point, and the Chiefs led 3-0.

The Vikings went three-and-out after Chiefs defensive linemen Jerry Mays and Curley Culp converged on a sack of Kapp. But the Chiefs got called for roughing the kicker on the punt, and Minnesota kept the ball. That was okay, though; they forced another three-and-out, and the Vikes had to punt again. This kick went into the end zone for a touchback.

Dawson threw to Pitts on first down for twenty yards, then he hit receiver Otis Taylor for nine more. Garrett took the ball across the midfield stripe for a first down, before getting to the 43 on his next carry. The teams switched sides for the second quarter before Vikes defensive back Ed Sharockman got called for pass interference. The Chiefs got as far as the 24 before settling for a 32-yard Stenerud field goal to go up 6-0.

Second Quarter

On Minnesota’s second play of their next drive, receiver John Henderson caught a pass and immediately fumbled. Defensive back Johnny Robinson recovered for Kansas City. In today’s NFL, it would have been ruled that Henderson never had possession, but as it was, the Chiefs had the ball. They’d turn it over only two plays later, though, as Dawson threw an interception to defensive back Paul Krause at the Minnesota 7.

The Vikings were backed up big time, and they went three-and-out once again. Lee’s punt was taken by Garrett at the Minnesota 44. Starting there, Pitts took an end-around for a first down to the 25. Hayes carried it a couple of times to get it closer, but the Chiefs couldn’t get another first down. That was okay, though, because Stenerud made a 24-yard field goal, and the Chiefs went up 9-0.

On the ensuing kickoff, Charlie West muffed the return, and the Chiefs recovered it inside the 20. Although Marshall made a tackle of Dawson for a loss of seven yards, the Chiefs quickly recovered. Hayes took it to the 15, then Dawson found Taylor for a first down at the 5. Facing third down from there, Garrett took it in up the middle. His five-yard touchdown and Stenerud’s extra point made it 16-0 in favor of Kansas City.

West tried to make up for his fumble by returning the next kickoff to the 32. Kapp then found Henderson for a first down at the Kansas City 41. The Minnesota drive short-circuited when Culp and Buck Buchanan converged on another sack. The Vikings tried for a new Super Bowl-record 56-yard field goal, but kicker Fred Cox’s kick came up short. Running back Warren McVea caught the short kick and returned it to the 23.

McVea carried the ball three times in a row for Kansas City, and he got a first down after the two-minute warning. Pitts took an end-around for a first down at the 45. Hayes took a draw into Minnesota territory at the 49, and the Chiefs called timeout with 49 seconds left. Dawson’s third-down pass was nearly intercepted by linebacker Wally Hilgenberg, and the Chiefs were forced to punt. The Vikings then ran out the clock in the first half, and the Chiefs took a 16-0 lead into the locker room.

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    Third Quarter

    The Chiefs got the ball to start the second half. They began at their own 15, and McVea ran for five yards on first down. Dawson then threw to Taylor for a first down. Garrett ran for another six yards, then Dawson hit him for a first down to the 38. But a failed screen pass and a holding call set back the Chiefs, and they were forced to punt. Minnesota got the ball back at their own 30.

    The Vikings then put together their only scoring drive of the day. Kapp threw to Beasley for a first down past the 40. Osborn ran for the Vikings’ next first down. Running back Bill Brown ran it to the 36, then he caught a pass for a first down at the 25. Kapp threw on the run to Henderson, and he got close to another first down. Kapp would then go to running back Oscar Reed, and he got a first down at the 4. Osborn pounded it in from there, and his four-yard touchdown run coupled with Cox’s kick made it 16-7.

    But if there was any doubt whether the Chiefs would hold on, it was erased on the next drive. Garrett started the drive with a four-yard run, then Hayes ran it for a first down. The Chiefs faced third-and-long a few plays later, but Pitts took an end around off right end for a first down at the 39. Hilgenberg then got called for a personal foul for a late hit, giving the Chiefs another first down.

    On the very next play, Dawson fired to Taylor, who escaped from a tackle by defensive back Earsell Mackbee, before sprinting down the right sideline for a 46-yard touchdown. The Chiefs were back up by sixteen points after Stenerud’s extra point made it 23-7.

    Fourth Quarter

    The rest of the game was a foregone conclusion. All that happened in the fourth quarter was that the Vikings kept turning the ball over to the Chiefs. Kapp threw an interception to linebacker Willie Lanier on the next drive. The Chiefs were content to simply run the ball and eat up time. They ran the ball three times, then punted it back with eleven and a half minutes left.

    Kapp tried throwing a couple of long passes on the next drive, but neither worked. The first one went incomplete to Henderson, and the second one was intercepted by Robinson. The Chiefs followed simply by handing the ball off three times in a row to McVea, then punting it again after eating up some clock.

    On Minnesota’s next drive, Kapp got sacked by defensive end Aaron Brown and fumbled. His guard Jim Vellone recovered to keep the ball for the Vikings, but Kapp was injured and had to come out of the game. Gary Cuozzo would play quarterback for the remainder of the game for Minnesota. But he also threw an interception, this one to defensive back Emmitt Thomas. The Chiefs then ran out the rest of the clock. After having lost Super Bowl I, the Chiefs had bounced back with a victory in Super Bowl IV – they were world champions!

    Super Bowl IV Awards

    Len Dawson won the Most Valuable Player award for Super Bowl IV. He was the fourth consecutive quarterback to win it for the Chiefs. He completed twelve of seventeen passes for 142 yards and one touchdown. He also threw one interception, while running three times for eleven yards.

    The numbers really weren’t all that impressive, and if I were to give out a Most Valuable Player to someone else, I would have given it to receiver Otis Taylor. He caught six balls for 81 yards and that 46-yard touchdown, making the biggest play of the day. You could also make an argument that the entire defense deserved the MVP award, but since I can’t give it to an entire unit, I’ll give it to Taylor.

    Who was the Least Valuable Player, the player who gets the blame for the loss? That I have to give to Vikings returner Charlie West. He fumbled away a kickoff return with his team down 9-0, and the Chiefs recovered and scored a touchdown several plays later to make it 16-0. After that, there was no coming back for Minnesota. Sorry, Charlie, but I have to give this award to you.

    The Most Valuable Player for the losing team, who was it? I’m going with linebacker Wally Hilgenberg. He came up with nine tackles for the Vikings and made a couple of other nice plays. He broke up a pass which he nearly intercepted. Yes, he got called for a late hit, but he had a nice game in a losing effort for Minnesota.
    The biggest play of the game was obvious – Taylor’s 46-yard touchdown. If he gets tackled right away, then maybe the Chiefs don’t pull away. Maybe they settle for a field goal and are only up 19-7. But he broke that tackle attempt by Mackbee and went all the way for a touchdown, and that made it 23-7 and turned out the lights on the Vikings.

    What was the biggest play that no one remembers? It came two plays before that one. Receiver Frank Pitts took an end-around on third-and-long and picked up a first down. It was a real gamble by Stram to try an end-around in that situation. If it doesn’t work, the Chiefs punt. Instead, he got the first down, setting up Dawson’s game-sealing pass to Taylor just two plays later.

    Who was the best player in this game you’ve never heard of? How about Chiefs punter Jerrel Wilson. He kicked it four times for 194 yards, making it a 48.5 punting average. His longest punt went 59 yards. Compare that to his counterpart from Minnesota, Bob Lee, who only averaged 37 yards per punt, and whose longest punt only went fifty yards. Wilson played a big role in helping pin down the Vikings.

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